The site, established by agronomy business Hutchinsons, near Warboys, Cambridgeshire, is part of the firm’s Helix initiative, and is dedicated to testing some of the many environmental stewardship options which will be central to future support within the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs).
It will open its doors in September, giving growers a chance to see first-hand the traditional and exotic species that make up different stewardship mixes, learn how to establish them successfully and discuss the benefits they deliver to biodiversity and soil health.
The firm’s services leader Matt Ward says: “All farmers should be considering what they can do in terms of stewardship options now. Don’t just wait until ELMs is launched in 2024.
“Currently there is a great opportunity to get two bites of the cherry by trying different stewardship options at the same time as still being able to claim some Basic Payments.
“It is a very different world we’re looking at though, which will require growers to be more flexible about how and where they grow crops and think carefully about where stewardship options best fit into their own business.”
Understanding what is available and seeing how various options perform in a normal farm situation allows more informed decisions to be made, says Hutchinsons environmental services specialist Matt England, whose 180-hectare family farm is hosting and managing the trials.
The site, which is predominantly on heavier clay-based soil, includes spring-drilled plots of 16 different species sown as straights rather than mixes, allowing growers to see the characteristics and growth habits of exotic species, such as sorghum, reed millet, camelina and quinoa, alongside more familiar names, such
as kale, stubble turnip and sunflower.
Mr England says: “Many species will be new to a lot of farmers, so it is interesting to see their characteristics and how they grow in UK conditions. We’ve been
fortunate with the rain in May coming straight after drilling, which really helped plots establish, so they should look fantastic by September.”
A range of seed mixes has also been established, including the two-year legume option (with and without grass) and other flower/nectar-rich mixes, which are already attracting considerable interest among farmers in existing stewardship schemes, the ELMs pilot and the regenerative agriculture movement.
Mr England adds: “Weed control is one of the biggest challenges many growers face when establishing stewardship mixes, which is why we’ve included a herbicide trial of pre-ems, post-ems and a combination of both to see what works across the different species and seed mixtures.
“If you can keep these mixes weed-free, it is much better for biodiversity as it allows the flowering and seed-producing species to thrive, rather than having them outcompeted by weeds.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to be putting a percentage of your farm down to these kind of mixes, you have to select the most appropriate options for your situation and manage them well to get the most out of them.”
For flower and legume mixes, there is little available herbicide-wise, so it is best to concentrate on stale seedbeds, drilling date and cutting to control weeds, says Mr England.
“If you are in a weedy situation, where there is a massive seed bank, cultivate it and leave it for six months or a year then spray.
“Drill without moving too much soil. The time to cut is when weeds are in flower, so they don’t set seed. Where there is black-grass, avoid cutting it too low or it will set seed.”
For wild bird seed mixtures, there is a range of pre-em herbicides available and some growers use a pre-em followed by post-em, adds Mr England.
“There are about 10 different broad-leaved herbicides and two graminicides. But drilling and cultural controls are the best form of defence. You don’t need to
drill until June, so wait until you get a good stale seedbed.”
Weed control is one of the biggest challenges many growers face when establishing stewardship mixes
MATT ENGLAND Keeping stewardship mixes weed-free is better for biodiversity as it allows the flowering and seed-producing species to thrive.
The Helix environmental stewardship open day takes place on Thursday, September 16, near Warboys, Cambridgeshire. For more details visit hlhltd.co.uk/event